Long Exposures In The Magic Hours – Kevin McNeal Photography

•August 21, 2013 • 4 Comments
Long Exposure Along the Oregon Coast At Cape Kiwanda
Long Exposure Along the Oregon Coast At Cape Kiwanda

One of the most challenging tasks in landscape photography is shooting long exposures during the periods of sunrise and sunset when the sun is visible. Over the years I have gotten better at it but there are a few simple things that I have done to improve my success. In this article I hope to share the single most important factor that has helped me to capture some of these rewarding images.

The most important aspect to successful long exposures during the magical hours is to use a quality Neutral Density Filter that blocks enough light. When I first started using ND filters I began with a cheaper filters and thus was not getting the results I wanted. I didn’t realize how the quality of the glass can affect the overall quality. After upgrading, I have only used quality Singh-Ray filters. The key to the Singh-Ray filters is their ability to achieve excellent results in terms of consistency, exposure, and colorcast free.  Overall the last few years I have visualized the possibilities of having a Neutral Density filter that would be strong enough to block out daylight and still allow you to get long enough exposures with the sun present. Shooting into the sun is already one of the most difficult things to get correctly. Adding a technical challenge of now shooting a long exposure looking into the sun would be even harder.

Rodeo Beach Sunset
Rodeo Beach Sunset

So when it comes to long exposures the filter I turn to most is the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter. The recent arrival of this new filter has allowed me to expand a whole new level of creativity in my images. Constantly trying to push the boundaries of long exposures has always been an objective of mine. So when Singh-Ray came out with a thin mount 10 Stop Mor-Slo filter I was really excited to take advantage of this unique filter. In terms of a Neutral Density filter, 10 Stops is a perfect amount of blocked light and opens the doors to a new level of experimentation. The Singh-Ray 10 Stop filter has the option of a thin mount so I can shoot wide-angle scenes and not worry about vignetting.  With other brand filters this has always been an impeding factor in using neutral density filters. This occurs because other brand filters dealing with Neutral Density filters are thick and thus the filter protrudes into the image. The thin mount on the Singh-Ray ND filter is thin enough that scenes can be shoot as wide as 17mm and not have any vignetting.

Aloha Sunset
Aloha Sunset

One of the most asked questions I receive when teaching workshops is why long exposures are important and how to go about this using Neutral Density filters. Shooting longer exposures even in times of strong sunlight allows the photographer to create images that most photographers have never seen before. I like to use longer exposures in my photography to create mood and a sense of calmness in the images. In the past, this was only possible in low light situations such as the twilight hours before sunrise and after sunset. With the emergence of this filter long exposures can be taken at anytime of the day. This especially applies to images with elements of water such as waterfalls, rivers, and oceanscapes. This filter has not just opened new possibilities of creativity but has expanded the times of when I can shoot. I frequently shoot scenes with water at anytime of the day and combine this with the sun to really create unique images. The most rewarding has been the ability to shoot long exposures while the sun is setting or rising. When longer exposures combine with the strong elements of warm light the results are a juxtaposition of mood and drama. The final result is a uniqueness that is rarely seen in landscape photography and really draws the viewer into the image.

Rushing Waves Along The Olympic Peninsula
Rushing Waves Along The Olympic Peninsula

When it comes to Neutral Density filters other then the Singh-Ray, one of the main criticisms is the colorcast that is present in the image. This is very apparent in the higher number stops especially when the number of stops reaches 10 stops. With the Singh-Ray 10 Stop Mor-Slo ND filter there is no colorcast. This filter not only negates the colorcast but also adds a deeper richer color to the final result. The longer exposure produces a more vivid color in the more saturated colors in the image. The reply most people tell me who don’t want to use quality ND filters is it is easy to remove the color cast in post processing. But these days, many publishers, editors, and photo contests are asking to have the RAW image submitted with the final image. The last thing you want in your RAW image is a color cast that is nothing like the final image. The other reason I use the high quality Singh-Ray ND filters is I want to get as much right in the camera as I can, so I minimize my post processing. There is a certain satisfaction when the image out of camera is close to how you visualized it.

The most important factor why I use the Singh-Ray 10 Stop ND filter is the lack of ghosting and banding that occurs in lesser quality ND filters that range from 5-10 stops of light. This irregularity of consistency from lesser brand ND filters cannot be fixed in post processing. The banding occurs across the image and causes inconsistencies in exposure and destroys the image. With Singh-Ray ND filters there is no banding, posterization, or uneven exposures in the image. The final image is a clean, colorcast free image that wows your audience and allows you to explore new areas of creativity. When it comes to excellent results with long exposures from Neutral Density filters, the high quality of Singh-Ray ND filters is the most important element.

Long Exposure Along The Big Sur Coastline
Long Exposure Along The Big Sur Coastline

Photographing Yellowstone National Park in the Winter by Kevin McNeal

•March 7, 2013 • 4 Comments

Grand Prismatic Sunset

This past week I had the opportunity to visit Yellowstone National Park in the winter. I have wanted to photograph this special place in winter conditions but never had the chance. Well my wishes came true this week and I was given the opportunity to co-lead a Yellowstone Winter workshop with three other great instructors. Being that is was my first time in the park I was a novice and was prepared to make some mistakes. I believe each park has its own special qualities that capture the essence of it. Needless to say, I learned so much from this past workshop. Not only from the other instructors but the students as well. So if I went back I would do a few things different that will help other photographers visiting Yellowstone in the winter. The following are some helpful hints if you decide to photograph this majestic place in the winter.

Eye In The Storm

Firstly, bring all your lenses from widest to telephoto. You will need a lens capable of at least 300mm. I only brought a 70- 200mm L and I found out quick that was not nearly enough. I was constantly finding scenes that were stunning but did not have the lens to capture it. If you have a 100-400L lens that should appropriate for most scenes in the park. Whether you are shooting wildlife or landscapes I found that I was restricted to where I could shoot from because of the snow. In past situations I would move closer to the subject but when you are photographing with others this is not something that can be afforded to you. When getting around in Yellowstone during winter conditions park access is restricted to snowmobiles and snow cats. During our time in the workshop the group was divided into two snow cats. To book snow cats you can do that in West Yellowstone where we made it our home base. In West Yellowstone you can find adequate accommodations and food as well.

                                 Secondly, I would have held my camera in my hand while in the snow cat. Many chances to capture wildlife happened in a split second and by the time you reach for your camera it was too late. You have to be open to the idea of hand holding your camera and shooting through the snow cat windows (they keep the windows very clean) as this is your only opportunity in many cases. I have always been a tripod kind of person, so I had to adjust to new circumstances. This included shutter speeds and aperture which are completely different if you are hand holding. The other problem is the snow cat does not stop every time you see something you would like to shoot. The snow cat only makes stops where the majority of the photographers in the vehicle would like to stop. The emphasis was primarily on wildlife in the park.

Last Light Geysers

Thirdly, I did not bring a wide enough range of clothing with me on the trip. The mornings were very cold, well below zero but the afternoons really warmed up. I found I brought enough cold apparel but not enough clothes for warmer weather, which was also breathable. Especially when the snow cat would stop for long periods of time. You would get cold exiting the snow cat but as soon as you moved around you would sweat immediately. I needed some clothes that adapted to all the particular situations. For example, clothes that were not just breathable but also have zippers down the side making it easier for quick access depending on the situation. Also make sure to bring gloves that can provide access to your camera controls, as you are not going to be taking your gloves off. Many students did not have this option and unfortunately ended up back in the snow cat due to the cold conditions.

                              Lastly, the most important thing I would do different is time my visit to coincide with better photography weather. As I was involved in co-leading a workshop I did not have this option. Timing the weather conditions is very hard to do in this park but can be done. If you can see that the weather calls for favorable conditions in the park a few days ahead make the trip, as it will be definitely be worth it. If possible fly in to either Idaho Falls airport or Jackson Hole airport; both airports are within a few hours of the park. The best place to make accommodations is West Yellowstone. Prices are reasonable for accommodations and transportation. Reservations can be made here for transportation into the park. When I visited this past week the conditions in terms of snow were not ideal. If I traveled by myself I would have waited it out in West Yellowstone before making the trip inside the park. There is a high probability of snow most days in the winter so waiting it out should not take too many days.

The Variety Of Colors In Yellowstone

In conclusion, each photographer will have a set of ideals that are important to him or her when photographing in Yellowstone during winter season. From my experience, these simple tips can go a long way to improving your success in the park.

Introduction To Winter Photography – By Kevin McNeal

•March 5, 2013 • 8 Comments

Winter is a special time for photographers who enjoy the challenges and the rewards that come with winter photography. Dedication comes to mind, when we think of photographers that enjoy adventures in subzero temperatures, to capture images that other photographers would not be willing to even consider.

A trip to the park in summer means hot weather, overcrowding, and congestion. On the other hand, winter is the perfect time to try shooting some unique perspectives of your favorite places. The solitude and peacefulness of a winter scene takes on a new persona and allows the photographer to see it in a whole new light. What really makes winter special for the photographer is the chance to be out in nature on a more intimate level. This time alone in nature makes one really think about what it is they are to trying to capture, and how they are going to relate this to their audience. Winter photography can be very rewarding if one prepares themselves for the challenges of colder temperature. There are a few simple tips that will make your winter adventures more enjoyable.

The following three concepts are equally important to the enjoyment and longevity of winter photography: 1) clothing; 2) camera equipment, and 3) the picture-making process.

Common among these elements is the notion of preparation for all winter conditions you may encounter. An absence of planning in winter can deter any photographer from further experiencing the true beauty of winter.

When it comes to shooting in the winter, weather can be unpredictable. The best way to prepare for weather is to expect anything in the winter. Therefore, dressing appropriate for the situation is fundamental for winter photography. When it comes to dressing, it is necessary to plan ahead for situations of changing weather. Preparing the body for winter includes wearing something light and loose, so the body can regulate the escape of body heat.

Shooting in colder temperatures, the body temperature changes dramatically between hot and cold depending on the activity. As photographers are well aware of, photography can vary in terms of activity levels. Anticipating this level of activity means wearing clothing that can be easily opened with zippers in specific areas of the body for fresh ventilation and not wearing multiple layers that cause the body to overheat. For a photographer who already carries heavy camera equipment, dressing in layers is not ideal. The kind of clothing recommended is some form of loose fitting, breathable jacket that has zippers, allowing the photographer to quickly open and close depending on the level of activity. Also, it is important to wear clothes that leave no area of the body exposed to the colder temperatures. Always wear a warm hat to avoid excessive heat loss through the head. Research shows that seventy percent of one’s body heat can be lost by not wearing a hat in colder climates. In addition to a warm hat, wear pants that are fully waterproof, yet comfortable so that different types of shooting can occur. For example, photographers sometimes like to kneel in the snow to get closer to the subject. The ability for a photographer to move around comfortably and stay dry is critical. In terms of footgear, boots need to be waterproof, insulated, and high enough around the ankles to prevent leakage of snow. Gators, which are water resistant equipment that goes around footgear from the ankle to the knee, and keeps the snow from getting inside the boots are Recommended.

The one piece of equipment that most photographers wear incorrectly is gloves. Although most photographers wear some form of warm lining or gloves, most will wear gloves that do not have fingertips. They believe that fingerless gloves can help the photographer manipulate easier the camera controls. The truth is, most winter conditions are cold enough that exposed fingertips will hinder any finer control movements of the camera, thus being unable to operate the camera properly. The better option is to wear gloves that have removable fingertips that are held by strings from the body of the glove to the fingertips. Depending on the activity the fingertips can be easily removed or put back on. When it comes to enjoying your time in winter, the right type of clothing can make all the difference between a good and bad day. What about the ‘Tech Gloves’ that have a special end on the first and index fingers for working camera controls? I bought a pair at REI yesterday.

The most neglected area of winter shooting is winterizing camera equipment. What do you mean ‘winterizing camera equipment’? As I understand it, the modern digital cameras do not need to be winterized like the old film cameras. There are a few important considerations to be aware of when preparing camera equipment for winter. Keeping batteries warm should be separate from any winterizing. Do you find that batteries recover when warmed up? Depending on how cold the temperature is, one common problem prevalent among photographers is short-term camera battery life. Results vary on temperature and camera model, but it is safe to assume that batteries might only last a few minutes in cold weather. Do you ever put one of those hand warmers on the camera to keep battery area warm? Therefore, always carry extra batteries in the winter. Carry the extra set in a warm area like a pocket close to the body. This keeps the spare batteries warm and ready to switch out when the current batteries lose their power. Throughout the day continue to switch out the cold batteries with the warm ones for longer shooting.

Another common problem with camera equipment in winter is the condensation that occurs on a camera from changes in environments. Very cold air has very little water vapor, it is dry. When a camera comes from a cold outside environment to a warmer and more humid environment area like a heated vehicle, water vapor can condense on the outside and inside of the camera. Water inside the camera can cause the electrical components to malfunction and corrode. To avoid this, bring a large Ziploc or large trash bag to keep the camera inside until the temperature inside the bag is roughly the same as room temperature.

It is imperative to realize that mistakes are common when you are new to winter photography and every individual will have different things that work for them. Success comes with perseverance, and learning from mistakes is the key to continued involvement in shooting. Try different things by experimenting with different types of adventures, varying length, weight load, and locations. Take some early trips near home and figure what works for your style. These starter trips also give the body a chance to acclimatize to the colder conditions and build tolerance over time. Once everything is ready to go with your clothing and equipment, the only thing is to reward the winter experience with some great images.

Photography in the winter is a lot different than any other time for a variety of reasons. The main obstacle in the picture making process is the challenge of exposure. When evaluating exposure, the camera meter cannot give an accurate reading for white subjects like snow or ice. This is because snow fools the camera meter in trying to average out the luminosity of the snow, and ends up turning the snow grey rather than white. To get around this exposure challenge you must open up one or two stops on the camera to retain the highlights. Proper exposure varies depending on the light available. It is recommended to bracket images whenever the camera’s meter cannot give an accurate reading. Bracketing in one-stop increments beginning at an even exposure bias (0) and extend the exposure bias by plus/minus two stops at either end. A common solution to this exposure challenge is to take an average reading with your camera’s spot meter of a subject such the base trunk of a tree.

The single most important element in improving winter photography is working with the light. In wintertime, the light quality is unique, as frequent changes in weather take place. These weather changes make the clouds susceptible to more movement, thus more opportunities to capture the transient light. Transient light can be described as changing light that occurs as clouds interact with the sun’s luminosity. This diffused light at sunrise or sunset can lead to dramatic lighting that is accentuated by the contrast of the white snow. As well, in winter, light at sunrise or sunset lasts longer allowing the opportunity for longer periods of shooting. To capitalize on this opportunity look for situations that allow for side lightning that pronounces a subject’s features. Side lighting not only enhances the contours and shapes of the subject but it gives the image depth. Depth to an image draws a viewer into an image and makes it more interesting.

To make the most of winter weather, track weather systems in your local area and be present when these weather changes occur. Snow is a natural reflector of light so incorporate subjects into your composition that will reflect color into the image. Subjects that can improve compositions in winter situations are icicles, ice rim, frosted subjects, and natural shapes outlined in the snow. Capturing light in winter can lead to very dramatic images that stand out. Impact is important in pleasing images, and balancing composition with stunning colors is the way to achieve this. Rewarding winter images are possible when you learn to read and understand the light. Preparation is essential and visualizing your subject beforehand and how it will react with the light is important. Once you learn how to control the light you can use the combination of winter elements to make available light work to your advantage.

In conclusion, preparation is the unifying concept that ties all these recommendations together. It’s the combination of successful planning that makes it even more pleasurable when everything comes together out in the field. Success follows those that prepare and envision what they are trying to capture. Winter is a great time to get out and try something new. Take time to enjoy what you are doing and make sure to come back with some great images.

How Much Is Too Much Photoshop ?

•October 17, 2012 • 12 Comments

Thors Well Sunset – Oregon Coast

For example, some photographers choose to combine multiple exposures together in a process known as HDR. This method captures the whole tonal range of the scene from darkest to light by combining several exposures together. HDR images have become a subject of much controversy over which people have a wide range of opinions.The results vary from beautiful to “over the top”.  Some who lean more toward traditionalism feel that every photographic image should come from a single exposure and that each image should be presented as it was captured by the camera. For me I use a combination of methods that enable me to achieve a final image that tells the story I want to tell. From my perspective there is no right answer to which approach is correct.

For the non professional photographer each is entitled to his own vision and each has the right to present it as he sees fit. What about the professional photographer? Do they have an obligation to present the scene as it is in the camera or are they allowed to have creative freedom when it comes to post processing? These days it is not uncommon for magazines and photo contests to request that images avoid excessive Photoshop and to attach the original image with the final results.

With the advancements of Photoshop, photographers are now creating images that cross the boundaries into “digital art”. In other words the image combines elements from multiple images or doesn’t resemble anything that could be found in nature. The results are often stunning and beautiful, but the image may look more like a painting than a photograph based in realism. Personally speaking, when it relates to selling images the competition is fierce and often publishers will make a decision to choose an image based on a thumbnail. Therefore, the images chosen often look unnatural. You can see evidence of this in magazines, calendars, and even photo contests. There is no arguing that brightly colored and stylized images are popular these days.

If you make a living from photography what are the guidelines when it comes to realism? I don’t have the answers but I know, in an effort to express myself and my artistic vision, that I often push the limits as far as I can. I am grateful to make my living as a photographer. It seems that as photographers become more skilled in the art of digital image developing the debate over the use of new digital image developing techniques versus a more traditional approach to photography will continue.

Advantages Of A Quality Neutral Density Filter

•May 24, 2012 • 5 Comments
Pfeiffer Beach, Big Sur

Recently I was lucky enough to make a trip to the coastline of California and more specifically Big Sur. Anytime I am shooting ocean landscapes, filters becomes a big part of the mood I am trying to recreate.  I am a big fan of Singh-Ray filters for many reasons but my favorite filter is the 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter. One of my favorite things to do when I am shooting oceans is to create mood by shooting longer exposures. Just by using this filter you have to the ability to completely change the direction of the image. For example, I normally would shoot an image at around half-second or faster to stop the action of the wave. This gives the appearance of a fast moving explosive image that draws the viewer into the image. This type of image usually is filled with powerful explosiveness that really holds a lot of tension. But with the 5-stop Mor-Slo ND filter I have the ability to change the expectations of the viewer and create a thought-provoking image that instills a sense of calmness to the image. There is nothing wrong with a fast-action image but it is also nice to sometimes go in an unexpected direction in terms of mood. In today’s market of digital photography, many professional photographers need to be able to show similar results in their RAW images to publishers and editors. The need for the scene to be as close as possible to how the scene was originally captured is of vital importance for magazines and books.

Twilight Hour On Pfeiffer Beach

The 5-Stop Mor-Slo is really unique from other ND filters that I have tried in the past. Other ND filters come with a colorcast that can be difficult to remove in post processing without removing other colors. One of the techniques I am fond of using with ND filters is to use them when the sun is still visible along the horizon. The appearance of a long exposure with the sun still present is very deceptive to the eye when used correctly in an image. In situations like this I will stack two 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters to get even a longer exposure. With the sun visibly present I can get more then a 30-second exposure, which can really look unique with the last light hitting elements in the foreground. The reason I stress the uniqueness of this is that once you get over 5-Stop ND filters with other brand names you get inconsistent results that never work with the sun present. What often happens with other brand names when it comes to ND filters is banding of black strips across the image, color casts across the image, and most importantly uneven exposures across the image. The higher the number in terms of ND filter the less consistent the results. With Singh-Ray I can use either a 5-Stop Mor-Slo or two stacked together and still get the same consistent results. The images are clean with no color casts. This is important because in post processing you can remove color casts but it also removes color you don’t want removed. Colors like the warm last light in an image that you are trying to capture gets mixed in with a brown color cast which is almost impossible to separate. The results are spot on in terms of exposure and lack any of the spotting you often find with other ND filters. If you are going to stack the 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filters it is important that you get the ones that are threaded in the front so they can be mounted together. I am often asked the difference between the Singh-Ray 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter and the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. You can use the 5-Stop Mor-Slo for scenes that need a wide-angle lens without vignetting. The filters are thin enough that you can stack two of them together and still get fairly wide scenes without signs of the lens in the image.  So, when it comes it finding a filter to use when shooting long exposures and you need clean exposures, nothing gets results like the Singh-Ray 5-Stop Mor-Slo ND filter.

Along The Big Sur Coastline, Davenport

Top Ten Tips For Adding Impact To Fall Images

•September 30, 2011 • 6 Comments

Fall Abstract For Fields Of Color, Northern Prince Edward Island, Canada

Top Ten Tips For Adding Impact To Fall Images
By Kevin McNeal

When it comes to getting great autumn images there are many things that you can do to achieve success. The following list is just a brief summary of the top tips to adding impact. I encourage to go out and shoot as much as you can this fall and come up with your own top ten next year.

1) Use the light to your advantage: It is necessary to consider the light when trying to maximize color when shooting fall foliage. The golden light of early mornings and late evening sunset work best. Avoid the harsh contrast light of midday light that strips subjects of their color. Also, do not be afraid to shoot in overcast weather just be careful not to include too much sky in your shot.

Forest Of Color, The Laurentians, Quebec, Canada

2) Find colors that are complementary: Finding color in autumn is easy; trying to make visual sense is not. This means you need to consider how you arrange the colors in your image. Look for ways to match complementary colors or color contrasts. More specifically, I will choose compositions that accentuate the red of the leaves against the green grass or blue sky.

3) Try different perspectives: The best way to achieve this is to use a variety of lenses and focal lengths. There are many ways to showcase autumn; don’t lock yourself into one approach. I always shoot both wide-angle and telephoto. The wide-angle does a great job of showing the larger landscape and the color within its environment. It gives the viewer a better understanding of the whole scene. On the other hand, the telephoto is great for isolating smaller details against contrasting textures. Both give a completely different feel to the mood but equally effective.

4) Shoot with a polarizer: always shoot with a polarizer to maximize color: Using a polarizer can really add an immediate impact to your image. The polarizer deepens the color of blue skies, provides more saturated colors, and reduces glare and reflections in bright or sunny conditions.

Collage Of Color, Cape Breton Highlands, Nova Scotia, Canda

5) Include reflections in the visual design: in a sense look for ponds, lakes, or any body of water to mirror the impact of color doubling the beauty. Water adds a sense of dimension and motion that adds to the depth and substance of the image.

6) The tranquility of water and its reflection brings a subtle mood to your autumn images. When photographing using water don’t be afraid to break the rules of thirds. This is the time to go with a 50/50 in terms of composition.

Floor Level, New Brunswick, Canada

7) Use color in the image to tell a story: Use color deliberately in your story telling. Color is important but it is how we use it that really tells a story. Use the strongest colors in your foreground to grab your viewers attention; from their find patterns of color that connect the foreground to the background to really connect the image and tell a story. Too often we see one part of the image bold with great colors and nothing elsewhere. The image falls apart.

Le Chateau In Autumn, Quebec City, Canada

8) Shoot fall colors after a period of rain: Although not mentioned a lot in tips about fall photography. I have found my most successful fall images right after a rainstorm. The reasoning behind this is simple; the wet leaves are at their most vivid and the addition of rain adds another dimension to the image. Remember to combine this with a polarizer to reduce glare and reflection.

9) Look for unique perspectives: Too often we see the same type of fall photography. The stock image of the fallen leaf on the ground; the forest of aspens, or the collage combination of several colors along a backcountry road. Challenge yourself to step out of the box and come up with something completely new. Creativity is what will set your photography above others.

Alive With Color - The Laurentians, Quebec, Canada

10) Remember to not forget about the basics of photography just because of color: Although hard to describe I believe this is the most important tip to fall photography. Too often I become overwhelmed with the color and start shooting at the first sign of color. Because of the power of color I forget everything else in terms of composition. It is important to step back and take a deep breath. Maybe take a day to take in the sights without shooting. Once you have become accustomed to the color then you can coordinate color with composition. Remember color is just one part of what makes fall photography so interesting. Look for ways to bring all of your set skills into the image.

Island Of Isolation - The Swift River, White Mountains, New Hampshire

So that is a small list of tips to improve your fall photography. It is important to combine these tips with your style of photography to come up with a winning combination. Keep pressing the boundaries of creativity and develop a style that people can recognize as your own.

Please feel free to email me with any questions you might have:

Snake River, Grand Tetons NP,Wyoming

“If Something Can Go Wrong It Probably Will”-Kevin McNeal

•September 27, 2010 • 16 Comments
Storm Moving Over The Adirondacks

Storm Moving Over The Adirondacks

Welcome back to those who have had a chance to read some of the Photo Cascadia photoblogs. Well I have come to the conclusion after several articles and blogs I am not that person who will ever be good at writing how-to articles in photography. The one thing though that seems to happen to me are crazy stories that seem to follow me where I ever I go. So I thought I would start sharing some of my stories that people might get a laugh out of and maybe even learn something. So enjoy!

Last year I was lucky enough to get a month photographing back east in New England shooting fall colors. I was able to visit the states of New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. So after weeks and months of preparing to get everything just right for this trip I was ready. I had one of everything so nothing would be missed or so I thought. My first stop, the Adirondacks in New York to shoot Heart Lake. Ever since I saw the cover to Anthony Cooks’ book “Fall Colors Across North America” of Heart Lake I made this my mission for the last four years.

Heart Lake can best be seen by a moderate hike that leads you to this plateau that overlooks endless hills and color with a stunning lake situated in the middle of this paradise. Now I want to say up front that anywhere in the Adirondacks in autumn is beautiful but for me nothing was going to stop me from getting to photograph Heart Lake.

As I pulled in to the trailhead weather started to turn for the worse and the clouds were moving in. I would now have to run up this trail trying to get something to shoot before the mountain peaks were covered in fog. So without much thought to it I grabbed my bag and hit the trailhead. So far I was making good time and things were looking up; I started to think maybe I might get this “dream picture”.

It was at that point things turned upside down; rain was now coming down in buckets and the muddy trail was turning into a mudslide making it near impossible to get up the trail. It did not matter I was not going to be stopped. As fate would have it rain turned into snow and now I was heading into unsafe terrority.

Mount Joe And Heart Lake Immersed In Fog

Mount Joe And Heart Lake Immersed In Fog

Mount Joe In The Adirondacks Immersed In Fog
Parts of the trail were falling apart on me and I turned to my tripod for support. I was using it to get down a short descent on an otherwise uphill battle. I had come across some steep boulders that were surrounded by wet mud. As I placed my tripod right were I needed it for support – it snapped! I was using a lighter tripod due to traveling restrictions. So here I was inches away from my dream shot and no tripod. Make things worse I had cut my head and made things more difficult for my hip. The problem was this my only tripod; I decided to make the best of it using available sticks and my camera bag for support. Things were not going well and I was getting desperate.

The thought I was day one into a month long trip and no tripod was not fairing too well. With blood dripping, rain pounding, and weather only getting worse I headed back down the mountain with only a few satisfactory shots (not the compositions I was looking for). I now could not move fast due to my hip and being a bit disoriented.

So now time was my enemy again and I had to get out before dark. I know what you are thinking; get out your headlamp or flashlight. Well that would have been great except I forgot to get those out of the suitcase due to my rush to get to the top of the mountain. So I was now getting close to pure darkness and no compass, directions, and map to find my way down. I would have just followed the trail down if there was one but due to the rain that was sporadic at best. Well an hour later and the fear of God in me I made it down promising not to ever do this again. I ended up making the last bit by bushwhacking.

At last my car was in sight and I had forgotten all about my tripod and I was just thankful to get down the mountain. As I threw my wet clothes off I noticed the trunk was open; I had not closed it in my haste rush to get up the mountain. Things had been taken but nothing I could not have replaced. At least I had my camera with me and I was off to Vermont to look for a new tripod.

The next day while in Vermont I started to make my search for a new tripod and I was not near any camera stores. Who would have known no camera stores in Vermont or at least where I was. So I decided to break the cardinal rule of photography and handhold my camera using a higher ISO. This worked in midday but the minute the light got low I was in trouble. So I spent the first week without a tripod and only middle of the day shots.

While I was shooting at the infamous Jenne Farm in Vermont I had run into a group of photographers who were also traveling. After talking for a bit and noticing I was not using a tripod, they suggested I purchase one. I then explained what had happened and one of the guys offered me his second tripod to use. It was amazing someone was generous enough to allow me to borrow a tripod. After shooting had finished I returned the tripod only to be met with the most unselfish thing that has ever happened to me while doing this business. He told me to hang on to his tripod for the remainder of the trip and mail it back when it was convenient. I was truly at a loss for words and will always be thankful to him for that. The next few days were spent revisiting the places I had shot handheld; now I was a man with a tripod reading to photograph.

My fellow Photo Cascadia member, Adrian Klein best summed it up when he relayed to me “if something can wrong, it probably will- that is Murphy’s Law” especially if you only bring one of everything. I never forgot that one important saying. I now travel with two of everything including tripods thanks to my not so smart antics.

Mount Joe And Heart Lake From The Adirondacks

Mount Joe And Heart Lake From The Adirondacks